To fight the pandemic, it is clear that regular markets must be suspended temporarily. These are places where large groups of people gather and spread the virus; maintaining social distance in such places is very difficult so closure is the only option. But there must be more support for the farmers who are suffering as a consequence.
Now is the time for the government to temporarily suspend the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act to engage civil society. Such an act would allow NGOs, farmer’s collectives, corporate companies, welfare associations, religious organization’s and Panchayat Raj institutes to buy directly from farmers. These organizations could then safely distribute food at the doorstep of consumers through vegetable vendors at specified locations.
To some extent the above is already happening; Telangana state government has quickly adapted to the pandemic to distribute perishables at consumer’s doorsteps through Mobile Rythu Bazars. There is a great need for all other states to follow suit. The paramilitary could further aid timely distribution of safe and packaged food items to the public to avoid large gathering of consumers at regular markets.
Blessings in disguise
There is some hope at this time of great uncertainty and disaster. Both during and after the lockdown, innovative supply chain models for perishables and other commodities may emerge which are competitive, inclusive, scalable and sustainable. Supply chains which are able to connect farmers to consumers in the absence of several intermediaries during the pandemic may be robust enough for continued use when this crisis passes, though research to support scaling up would be needed.
In the medium to long term, there will likely need to be an increase in investments in cold storage facilities and decentralized primary and secondary food processing firms to support small and marginal farmers and to ease the food supply chain. If these investments continued long term they would strengthen supply chains. There is also the chance to think and prepare the best local governance model should a similar pandemic arise in the future.
For now, we watch as the crisis unfolds, and do our best to keep in touch with the communities so affected by the pandemic. We wish to lend our support wherever possible and use our skills and expertise to respond to the new challenges arising on a daily basis.
Excerpts taken from a blog written by Dr Ravi Nandi and Dr S. Nedumaran, both working on Flagship Project 1 (Sustainable and Transformative Agrarian and Rural Trajectories, START) at ICRISAT in Hyderabad, India. Views of the authors are personal)